A new draconian Turkish law concerning the internet which was approved by President Abdullah Gül, has caused serious concern among Turkish journalists as the country experiences one of the most serious democratic crises in its history.
The new regulations … will simply rub more salt in the open wounds in Turkey,” journalist Yavuz Baydar said in an interview with Sunday's Zaman. Baydar was sacked from the pro-government daily Sabah for his columns commenting on the Gezi Park protests and media freedom in Turkey.
Gül announced on Feb 18. via Twitter that he was going to approve the Internet law introduced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party). By supporting his political rival, Gül embarassed many Turks and deepened concerns about the freedom of expression in Turkey.
Turkey already has strict Internet laws, under which more than 40,000 websites have been blocked, according to engelliweb.com, which tracks access restriction. Turkish Internet legislation also contains a reference to an old law that makes insulting
the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk punishable with prison sentences.
The new law will provide the state-run Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) with the power to shut down websites with “inconvenient and objectionable content” -- content that violates privacy -- within four hours and without a court ruling. The law also forces Internet providers to track and keep records of users' activities, such as which websites have been accessed, for how long users visited those websites
and with whom they have been in contact, for up to two years.
After objections were raised, Gül asked the government to amend two of the
law's articles, but ultimately gave his stamp of approval. This led the AK Party to suggest on Wednesday that Internet records will be provided to TİB only upon the demand of courts within the scope of criminal investigation or prosecution.This has not satisfied critical voices, however.
The new Internet control law will put great powers in the hands of the new TİB
head, Cemaleddin Çelik, who was appointed to his post on Dec. 23 -- a week after Dec. 17, a date which has proved to be a turning point in Turkish modern history. On that day, a major corruption investigation came to light, which resulted in the arrest of some of Erdoğan's cabinet ministers' sons and businessmen close to his inner circle. They were alleged to have been involved in illegal activities including
money-laundering and gold-smuggling. Çelik is a former member of the
Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT), and is politically very
close to Erdoğan.
Erdoğan's critics emphasize that the new legislation
will be particularly effective at stopping new revelations emerging like
those of the recent corruption scandal, which not only caused domestic
turmoil but also cast a shadow on Turkey's hope to be a model of
democratic leadership in the Muslim world.
The Internet control law is a major blow to freedom of expression in Turkey. But Erdoğan maintained that the law does not aim at censorship. “We're only taking precautions against immorality, blackmail and threats,” he told lawmakers in his party in Parliament on Tuesday.